The Amara Resort and Spa is a boutique hotel owned by Kimton Hotels and Restaurants and is located in the heavily visited uptown district of Sedona, Arizona. Catering to the upscale visitor, Kimpton purchased the property about a year ago and began major renovations including the exterior grounds and landscaping. JSL Landscape LLC was engaged to perform a much needed landscape makeover. Since JSL Landscape is a design and build landscape construction firm based in Sedona, the corporate decision makers decided it was a good fit for their needs.

The existing landscaping at the Amara Resort and Spa was in need of a major overhaul as it was not only neglected in terms of maintenance, but the basic design – especially the choice of plants, would have to be totally changed to reflect the desire to create a more “chic” look as was requested by Kimpton’s Director of Design.
During the design process, John Leslie, owner of JSL Landscape, performed a site analysis and made several observations to develop a plan that would provide solutions to the lackluster design and give the overall landscape a clean, sophisticated look. There were several problem areas that needed attention:
1) The main entry lacked a sense of arrival. There was no distinct focal point. No statuary, fountain or other bold statement embellishing your sense of arrival.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Main entry at Amara Resort and Spa before landscape makeover

The main entry was rather simple, comprising the end of a long driveway that looped around the parking area. The Amara Spa was located across the main entry and interestingly, did have a waterfeature in front consisting of three contemporary oblique shaped basins with a metallic sphere which gurgled out water. Unfortunately, they were low to the ground and could not be seen if there were cars parked in the adjacent parking spaces. Furthermore, the handicap access ramp along with the railing was directly in front which really made one question why this fountain was placed there at all.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Waterfeatures are not only too low to be seen, they are blocked by parked cars and surrounded by the handicap access ramp and railings.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A repainting and some pedestals to raise these fountains in proportion to their surroundings was a minor improvement.

In order to improve upon the waterfeature, we built split face stone pedestals to raise them higher at different heights and relocated one of the basins to the main entry of the resort to give it a focal point and tie together the resort and the spa.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

One of the fountains was relocated to the main entry and raised much more prominently to provide a focal point and structural element.

This is no Bellagio resort mind you. Sedona’s resort properties are low key and certainly do not attempt to be ostentatious. We also had to keep their budget in mind, so creating an expensive solution that could otherwise be achieved economically was the way to go.

2) The central courtyard where the pool, outdoor restaurant seating and the outdoor wedding venue is located had major problems with its planting design as well as the poor condition of the turf.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

The existing courtyard showing the lackluster plantings and scruffy grass.

One of the biggest objections to the existing plantings was the use of deciduous shrubs that would look dead in the winter – especially the use of Red Barberry. Further, there were mass plantings of Deer Grass, which is not a deciduous shrub, but needs to be given a haircut during the winter in order to stimulate new green growth in the spring as well as keep the growth in check.
Other plantings included long continuous rows of Juniper that was pruned to keep it like a hedge. Small Blue Festuca grass was also planted in mass, with most of them dead or full of brown leaves. There were also Arizona Cypress trees newly planted about three feet from the guest rooms. It was determined that they planted the species that can reach 60 feet tall. Presumably, they wanted the dwarf variety but that is not what was planted.
So the solution to the courtyard plantings was to remove virtually everything in the courtyard (there were several Magnolia trees in suitable locations that would stay) and replace with a new planting configuration that favored groupings of a select number of plants in a repeated fashion. This would provide variety and interest, yet avoid the monotony of continuous rows of the same plants.
All of the new plantings would be cold hardy and evergreen so as to provide year round interest. Shrubs and accents would be used to give varied textures without creating a need for continual maintenance. The basic plant palette was as follows:

Lirope muscari (Lily Turf) both regular and variegated
Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheelers Dwarf’ (Mock Orange) both regular and variegated
Raphiolepis indica (Indian Hawthorn)
Chrysactinia Mexicana (Damianita)
Hesperaloe parvifolia (Red Yucca)
Muhlenbergia regens (Deer Grass ‘Regal Mist’ – in limited quantities.

In the shaded areas which made up most of the main entrance we used:

Aucuba japonica (Gold Dust plant)
Aspidistra elator (Cast Iron plant)
Liriope muscari (Lily Turf)
Nandina domestica ‘Nana” (Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo)
Euonymus japonica ‘Gold Spot’ (Golden Euonymus)

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

A more user friendly courtyard turf scene that invites you to have a seat and enjoy the view.

JSL Landscape designs and builds a landscape makeover at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona

Even the new synthetic turf was “power broomed” so as to mimic lawnmower tracks seen on ball fields.

The turf in the courtyard was the subject of much debate among the corporate decision makers. When it was suggested that synthetic turf may be an option to the existing natural grass, a heated debate ensued as to whether “fake grass” was in keeping with the stylish nature of the new renovations. There was also concern that synthetic grass would not be perceived as being “natural” or that the resort was not “sustainable”. But in the end, the practicality of synthetic grass was decided to be preferred. The reasoning is simple: synthetic grass looks great all year long, has no maintenance needs other than blowing off leaves, needs no watering or mowing and stands up to having gatherings such as weddings and other events without having to worry whether the grass looks good enough or placing signs that tell the guests “no pets allowed” – in the pet friendly Amara Resort.